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Rebels magical run comes to an end

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As the Ole Miss bus pulled out of TD Ameritrade Park Saturday afternoon, head coach Mike Bianco couldn’t suppress the feeling of pride that coursed through him. There weren’t many people who expected the Rebels — projected to finish next-to-last in the SEC West in the preseason — to make any noise whatsoever. But Ole Miss combined a lethal Friday-Saturday rotation with a powerful middle of the lineup to secure an improbable College World Series run that ended in the semifinals June 21.

“I’m proud of our guys… You don’t ever want to come this short, especially when you’re this close to winning the national championship,” Bianco said in an interview after the game. “But this is a special group of guys, special group of older guys.”

Bianco was able to emphatically shake the Omaha monkey off his back, reaching the College World Series with Ole Miss for the first time in his coaching career and quelling the increasingly audible grumblings about his ability to bring his teams to the next level.

The Rebels’ season was anchored by outstanding pitching, spearheaded by Friday-night ace Chris Ellis. While Ellis took the loss out of the bullpen in Ole Miss’ semifinal elimination game, the Birmingham, Ala. native’s 10-3 record and 2.55 ERA helped pave the way to an impressive 48-21 season.

Starter Christian Trent provided a punch in the Saturday slot as well, making Ole Miss a dangerous team on the mound. Trent put together an even more impressive stat sheet than Ellis, ending the year undefeated with a 9-0 record and 2.05 ERA. Opponents were barely able to make contact with him on the bump, hitting only .233 against the southpaw in 408 at-bats.

If pitching provided the anchor, the Rebels’ lineup countered with dominance at the plate en route to a 19-11 record in the SEC. Six players ended the year batting above .300, with catcher Will Allen leading the charge. Allen’s .355 average and 27 RBIs gave Ole Miss consistency in the middle of the order, while infielder Sikes Orvis and his 14 home runs supplied the power to strike fear into opposing teams night in and night out.

After falling to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semifinals, the Rebels’ resume was rewarded with the opportunity to host a regional. Bianco’s squad breezed through the bracket without losing a game to earn a super regional berth on the road against no. 1 ranked Louisiana-Lafayette. The Rebels won a tight series in three games to punch their ticket to Omaha and punctuate an incredible season.

“That’s the last time this team will be together, these 35 guys,” Bianco said.  “I’ll have another team next year and hopefully they’re really good, but this is a special group that’s played so well from beginning to end.”